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Izmo and I entered the room. Ryan, Sally, and Joey (not their real names) reacted with apprehension. They had never met a therapy dog before, and like everything that had happened to them, this situation was new and unnerving.
The children, ages 16, 14, and 4, needed the kind of help Izmo and I could offer. While their foster mother was doing an outstanding job, she needed support as well. She just did not know it yet. I came into their story in 2016, and like so many children in the system, they had bounced around a lot.
When I first met the children, they were quiet and unsure of me, and the foster mother resented having another service added to her already full calendar. My job was challenging. It took some time to gain the trust of the children and the foster mother, and there were some bumps along the way. Izmo helped relieve some of their stress and anxiety and it was not long before the children began to look forward to our visits and trust me. During our visits we talked about things they liked to do and about school and friends. They shared their frustrations and fears with me, and I worked with various agencies, providers and with the court to address their concerns and be their voice.
When their foster mother tried navigating the maze of Child Welfare, she realized why I was there. The foster mother found me to be a support and a constant in their lives, as well. She gained trust in me and knew she could lean on me when she was frustrated with the process, worried about the children, or needed help with available services.
It was a year and a half before they were assigned a temporary placement. For the kids, it represented so many unknowns. They had depended so much on each other. Would they stay together? Would they be sent to different foster homes? So much uncertainty. Children and Youth asked the temporary foster mother to consider becoming a permanent placement. When she agreed, it was one of the few small victories those kids had experienced in years.
Not every placement is a rousing success. The oldest boy, Ryan was struggling emotionally and needed additional support. As his CASA, I was able to advocate on his behalf and be his voice, to help find a place where his needs could be met. The first time I met him in his now home, I could immediately see the positive change in his demeanor and outlook.
During the two and a half years, these children have been in care, as their CASA, I have been the only constant in a revolving door of providers and services. As a volunteer assigned to only one case, Ryan, Sally, and Joey’s needs are my primary focus. Only after I get to know the children, their needs, and their history, can I make sure that their needs are met, and their wishes heard. And what they wished for is what so many children want- a stable home, with real parents, and that often means adoption.
Ryan, Sally, and Joey are at the final stage of the process now and their adoption date has been set. For Izmo and I, this case will come to an end, but there are other children out there just waiting to meet us.